Nine Group 1 winners line up for crack at Irish Champion Stakes: ‘The line-up is quite unbelievable’

Rarely do the stars align perfectly in racing but the Irish Champion Stakes came up smelling of roses when nine individual Group 1 winners were declared for Friday’s Leopardstown contest.
Pat Smullen rides Harzand to win The Investec Derby at Epsom Racecourse on June 4, 2016 in Epsom, England. Harzand will be one of nine Group 1 winners to race in Friday's Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images
Pat Smullen rides Harzand to win The Investec Derby at Epsom Racecourse on June 4, 2016 in Epsom, England. Harzand will be one of nine Group 1 winners to race in Friday's Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images

Rarely do the stars align perfectly in racing but the Irish Champion Stakes came up smelling of roses when nine individual Group 1 winners were declared for Friday’s Leopardstown contest.

A clash between English Derby winner Harzand and English Oaks winner Minding would usually be enough to set pulses racing around the world but the Irish duo command only top billing to what is a fantastically deep field.

Minding’s globe-trotting Ballydoyle stablemates Highland Reel, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner and Found,who last scored at the top level at the Breeders’ Cup in October, also take their chance.

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The Coolmore trio will be joined by Group 3 winner Sir Isaac Newton and will be pitted against the Godolphin pair of Hawkbill, who won the Coral-Eclipse in July, and Moonlight Magic, who has finished three times behind Harzand this season.

Add in this season’s French Derby winner Almanzor, and New Bay, who preceded him at Chantilly 12 months ago, surprise Prince Of Wales’s Stakes winner My Dream Boat, and The Grey Gatsby, who beat Australia in the 2,000-metre Irish Champion Stakes two seasons ago, and in terms of potential and class there has not been a better race in the world this year.

There are 13 runners, the biggest field since the €1.25 million (Dh5.2m) race moved to Leopardstown from Phoenix Park in 1991.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Leopardstown Racecourse chief executive Pat Keogh said. “The Qipco Irish Champion Stakes is certainly one of the races of the year and the line-up is quite unbelievable.

“With Minding taking on the colts for the first time, including a dual Derby winner in Harzand and a French Derby winner in Almanzor, it is a dream come true to have them racing at Leopardstown.”

Ireland’s gain is surely France’s loss, and the fallout may have a lasting effect.

The Irish Champion Stakes is the centrepiece to Irish Champions Weekend, a two-day meet that was inaugurated only last year.

Alongside Friday’s feature stands the Group 1 Matron Stakes, and on Sunday the Curragh puts on three Group 1 races. In total, there is just over €4m in prize-money across the two days.

Almanzor arrived in Ireland yesterday and was accompanied by French filly Qemah, who is seeking a Group 1 hat-trick when she lines up in the Matron Stakes against Irish Guineas heroine Jet Setting, the only filly to beat Minding this season, and the unbeaten British raider Persuasive.

Alongside New Bay, all three French horses had options on Sunday at Chantilly that hosts the official trials for next month’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The Group 1 Prix Foy, a recognised trial for the Arc for older horses, drew only three runners.

Japanese Derby winner Makahiki has only five rivals to dispatch in the Prix Niel, the trial for three year olds. The Prix Vermielle, for fillies and mares, has attracted only six runners.

The President of the UAE Cup returned to Doncaster on Thursday in dramatic circumstances when hot favourite Tayf threw away the £80,000 (Dh390,613) Group 1 UK Arabian Derby under Olivier Peslier in the shadow of the wining post.

Up until the final 300 metres Peslier had ridden the perfect race, letting Lightning Bolt and Dossar Athbah soften each other up during the early stages before Al Shaqab’s Khataab looked to have broken Lightning Bolt’s will by sneaking up the rail.

Those two kept on dourly as Tayf swept to the front down the middle of the course, but once Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani’s runner had sniffed victory he clearly felt his job was done and started to cruise.

Peslier also appeared to believe victory was assured and stopped encouraging his mount but Adrie De Vries eked out a little more to get Lightning Bolt up.

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Published: September 8, 2016 04:00 AM

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